Traveling has taught me more about myself and about the world than all my years of institutionalized education. Learning in a box is like seeing the world through a keyhole and living in one is really no life to live. That’s why I decided to study abroad in Shanghai for a semester. While I was taking a language course 4 days a week, I also managed to travel to 12 different cities all over China within a 5 month period.
From my semester abroad, here are 20 things I didn’t learn in the classroom.
1. Dumb ideas exist for a reason. On my first day in Shanghai, I showered on top of a toilet. The closer I was to the showerhead, the stronger the water pressure. And because that’s where the showerhead was fixed…right above the toilet.
2. The juxtaposition between the rich and the poor. Shanghai may be known as the New York City of the East but child beggars and little boys selling origami flowers reveal the poverty in Pudong.
3. I am not 16 anymore. I visited Wuzhen, a town on water, with only one hour of sleep. By 7PM I was hallucinating about pillows.
4. I took education for granted. Volunteering at the QiDi Migrant School made me realize that there are children who are not only hungry for food but they are also hungry to learn.
5. How to cure the smoker’s cough. Visit Suzhou’s Lingering Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for clean, crisp air and watch the sun set from Suzhou’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Tiger Hill Pagoda.
6. How to cure hunger. I was famished after my 4 hour trek around Hangzhou’s West Lake. My hunger vanished as soon as my food arrived. My order…chicken noodles with flies on the side.
7. Men made out of stone are hot. I like my men in suits but there’s something about men made of stone that just takes my breath away, especially when you have an entire Terracotta Army.
8. How to travel more using the maximum mode of transportation. To get to Putuoshan, I flew from New York to Shanghai, biked to meet JC, hopped in a cab to the train station, took the train to Ningbo, got on a ferry ride to Putuoshan, rode the bus to our hotel and trekked around the entire island. 7 modes of transportation in one trip.
9. How to get dirty. Hacked holes and poop-smeared walls in Qufu and mud squatties in Yunnan ain’t got nothing on me.
10. How to race down Taishan at night. Use your cell phone as a flashlight and pretend that the searing pain your legs is just a figment of your imagination.
11. Where Chinese Jews came from. Chinese Jews were Persian merchants traveling along the Silk Road from Turkey to Xi’an. They settled, integrated and inter-married in Kaifeng, China.
12. The beauty of traveling through China. It makes me feel like I’m in two places at once – the past and the present.
13. How to carve ginormous stone statues on mountain sides. In 493 the people of Henan Province began carving stone statues in the Longmen Grottoes with only a chisel and a religious soul.
14. Best meal in Beijing. Beijing duck at Quanjude Restaurant that melts in your mouth even in subzero temperature and the best tasting Sprite found at Subway’s.
15. How to get The Great Wall of China all to yourself. Visit Beijing on a snow day. You have plenty room and air space to glide down The Great Wall of China. And as a token of appreciation, snowmen are accepted.
16. I’m a delinquent. I was an accomplice to a crime when I knowingly paid a criminal for his services. He awaited me in a black Benz outside the Temple of Heaven.
17. I have impeccable timing for bad weather. In Shanghai, I was caught in a typhoon and in Beijing, I visited the Summer Palace when the Arctic cold decided to say hello.
18. Best hostel in Beijing. Hidden in the hutongs of Beijing is the Far East International Youth Hostel, complete with a traditional courtyard and an entertainment center.
19. People who travel have the power to change history. Dr. Sun Yatsen, the Founding Father of The Republic of China, traveled to places like Hong Kong, Hawaii, Europe, the US, Canada and Japan to learn and to teach.
20. Why Nanjing burns paper every night. 73 years ago 300,000 men, women and children were murdered at the whim of Japanese soldiers during the Rape of Nanjing. The Nanjing Massacre Museum burns paper and incense every night to commemorate the dead.
Monica writes about her oh-so-offbeat travel adventures on her site, A Pair of Panties & Boxers. Unusual name? You bet. Click here to find out why. Then read more about the travels behind her stories.